And so the story goes they wore the clothes
They said the things to make it seem improbable
Whale of a lie like they hope it was

And the good men tomorrow had their feet in the wallow
And their heads of brawn were nicer shorn
And how they bought their positions with saccharin and trust
And the world was asleep to our latent fuss
Sighing's swirl through the streets like the crust of the sun, the Bewlay Brothers

In our wings that bark
Flashing teeth of brass
Standing tall in the dark
Oh, and we were gone
Hanging out with your dwarf men
We were so turned on
By your lack of conclusions

I was stone and he was wax so he could scream and still relax
And we frightened the small children away
And our talk was old and dust would flow
Through our veins and though it was midnight back at the kitchen door
Like the grim face on the cathedral floor
The solid book we wrote cannot be found today
And it was stalking time for the moon boys, the Bewlay Brothers

With our backs on the arch
And if the Devil may be here
But he can't sing about that
Oh, and we were gone
Real cool traders
We were so turned on
You thought we were fakers

And now the dress is hung, the ticket pawned
The factor max that proved the fact is melted down
Woven on the edging of my pillow
And my brother lays upon the rocks
He could be dead, he could be not, he could be you
He's chameleon, comedian, Corinthian and caricature
Shooting up pie in the sky
Bewlay brothers
In the feeble, in the bad
Bewlay brothers

In the blessed and cold
In the crutch-hungry dark
Was where we flayed our mark
Oh, and we were gone
Kings of Oblivion
We were so turned on
In the night walk pavilion

Lay me place and bake me pie I'm starving for me gravy
Leave my shoes and door unlocked I might just slip away

Just for the day, ay
Please come away, ay
Just for the day, ay
Please come away, ay
Please come away, ay
Just for the day, ay
Please come away, ay
Please come away, ay
Please come away
Please come away

Lyrics submitted by lauramars, edited by EnglishNic, jbalakhdar, hop, EasyMeat

The Bewlay Brothers Lyrics as written by David Bowie

Lyrics © BMG Rights Management, TINTORETTO MUSIC, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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The Bewlay Brothers song meanings
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  • +3
    General CommentThis song is about David Bowie's step brother who was committed when David was still very young. I think his name was Terry or something. Well, Terry bought him a saxophone and talked his mom into paying for the lessons. He was also the one who suggested that he change his name. Telling him that he would be confused and compared to the Monkeys drummer; David Jones.

    This song is about his mixed feelings about his brother, in the last couple lines of the song you can see that he's talking about Terry being schizophrenic.

    In 1986 (Some years after the release of this album . ) His brother killed himself. He did not attend the funeral afraid that he would bring the press with him.. David said in an interview shortly after marrying Emon: "...Theres still ways that I'm not sure how to approach them, and I'm still trying to address the situation, because for me it was quite traumatizing."

    Terry first appears in 'The Man Who Sold The World.' album in the song "All the madmen" Then on this song and then in a song on 'Black Tie White Noise' called "Jump they say."
    CrossbowProphecyon January 08, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFirst of all, the lyrics seem to be incorrect. Bowie's own notes say "he can't sing above that", not "about that".

    Bowie wrote that the song is simply intended to make no sense, but since he said that after taking on his trickster role and probably wanted to fend off questioning about the song, and the actual song seems brutally sincere and vivid and was part of his most brutally honest record, I don't believe that comment.

    Third, the song contains religious imagery and sexual connotations that cannot be ignored. "The cathedral floor" "Corinthian and Caricature" "the devil may be here" "the blessed and cold", "with our backs on the arch", "real cool traders", "so turned on" "flayed our mark".

    Allusions to secrecy: "the solid book we wrote cannot be found today" "the dress was hung the ticket pawned, the factor max that proved the fact is melted down"..

    One things seems apparent, these guys are together through everything, In the feeble in the bad, in the devil may be here, in the blessed and cold, etc.

    That, and the secrecy and darkness, is all I can come up with for now.
    tmw009on November 30, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Commentedit needed for:

    "Sighing, the swirl through the streets"
    should read
    "Sang swirled through the streets."

    Now you will see WWI or WWII reference.

    "And so the story goes
    They (soldiers) wore the clothes (uniforms)
    They said the things (I will be back)
    To make it (defeat) seem improbable"

    The whale of a lie (war propaganda)
    Like they hope it was

    And the good men of tomorrow (war heroes)
    Had their feet in the wallow (trenches)
    And their heads of brawn (jingoism)
    Were nicer shorn (crew cuts)
    And how they bought their positions (rank) with saccharin (ingratiating attitude) and trust (loyalty)

    Interpretation: The good men of England went off to war, patriotic and positive, dutiful. Yet, they were lied to.

    Back in England: "And the world was asleep To our latent fuss" because everyone's attention was on the war. So what was this "fuss"? Perhaps the sense of feeling crushed by conservative traditions that finally sparked the social revolution of the 60's. (Out with the shorn heads in with the long hair)

    "Sang swirled through the streets" heralds the awakening of the Bewlay Bros who appear to be gargoyles alive and on the prowl, flying and stalking with there "backs on the arch" (hunched over). They are a byproduct of the "Whale of a lie", a great disillusion that swept through England, and later in the USA (Vietnam), "and dust would flow thru our veins...shooting up high in the sky" strong references to drug use (heroin) which was inextricably linked to war veterans.

    "We were so turned on (british for "under the influence of drugs" [not a sexual reference]) You thought we were fakers [judged in error by the conservative class who wrote the whole hippy revolution off as one bid drug induced party with no real agenda]
    jbalakhdaron February 23, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentListen for the rocking chair/cigarette drag intro.... an old man rocking, telling us a story, an amazing, colorful story. Fearing death, his end. As the tale wraps, the demons come to take him away. Patient and kind at first then bold and intolerant towards end. A chilling, remarkable odyssey. Bowies best!
    HalloweenJack7on October 21, 2016   Link
  • +1
    My Opinion...and here’s yet another commentary and a guess at the meaning of the song.

    This lyric seems to suggest that the brothers are arrogant. There’s an allusion to Nietzsche’s ‘dwarf men’ (those incapable of seeing the larger picture), with their ‘lack of conclusions’, and to ‘flashing teeth of brass’, brass meaning ‘cheek’ or ‘nerve’.

    The song really lays into one of the brothers as ‘unbelievable’. This is compounded by ‘camelian (sic), comedian, Corinthian and caricature’. A chameleon, according to the dictionary, is someone fickle, a Corinthian is someone who overindulges in luxury, and a caricature means a grotesque exaggeration. Adding ‘comedian’ to that hardly sells the potentially dead brother as something worthy, so I hope that David Bowie wasn’t describing his brother Terry like this.

    There is a strong suggestion of pretence about the brothers - that they weren’t what they said they were. They are described as ‘cool traders’ and ‘fakers’, both allusions to being not true to an ideal but rather just selling something. Also, ‘the whale of a lie like they hope it was’ is a complex reference to pretence and possibly a deliberate double-negative, making out, perhaps, that the brothers hoped they were more interesting than they were.

    The brothers seem to have caused harm to, or misled others, as stated by ‘we flayed our mark’. The last verse’s reference to ‘shooting up pie in the sky’ ‘in the feeble, in the bad’ and ‘in the crutch hungry dark’ is, to me, a reference to misleading both fools (?’moonboys’) (which is, to be frank, what most of us probably are by trying to interpret this song) and people who are more dangerous than fools.

    The lyrics also include a number of probable drug-related references, including ‘we were so turned on’, ‘dust would flow through our veins’, ‘shooting up’ and, possibly, ‘mind warp’. Interestingly, friends of Bowie from 1971 and earlier describe David Bowie as being more of a wine drinker at the time and not much of a toker, so I suspect that the song is not about David Bowie at all.

    Personally, I’d guess that the song is a not very complimentary description of Lennon and McCartney’s Beatles, who split up in 1970, one year before the song was recorded. ‘He could be dead...’ is, I think, a reference to 1969s ‘Paul is Dead’ theory. Other clues to this may be ‘we were so turned on’ (cf. ‘I’d love to turn you on’ in A Day in the Life), ‘pie in the sky’ (cf. ‘Lucy in the Sky’) and the backward guitar riff in the song’s chorus (a cliché Beatles feature).

    If this is right then the songs argument is that The Beatles gave the impression that what they were saying was drug-induced profundity whereas it was actually quite shallow (‘the solid book we wrote could not be found today’) (compare ‘Song for Bob Dylan’ which is discusses something similar but in a much more complementary way to Dylan). This led to some people over-reading the lyrics. The most extreme case of over-reading The Beatles’ lyrics was the Manson Family murders, influenced by the ‘White Album’ in the summer of 1969.

    Whether Bowie really thought this little of the Beatles in 1971 is anybody’s guess. The song appears to be written as a kind of joke about cryptic lyrics being over-read (quote: ‘don’t listen to the lyrics, they don’t mean anything. I’ve just written them for the American market, they like that sort of thing’). Indeed, Lennon and Bowie were good friends by the mid 1970s.

    Either way, the song has now changed its meaning for most people, being about Terry Burns. David Bowie’s 2008 description of the song as a ‘palimpsest’ is, to me, an acknowledgement that the song has taken on this new meaning, the old meaning having been wiped away.
    ned1on March 27, 2013   Link
  • +1
    My OpinionIt seems to me that this song is about a lot of different things that may or may not have had significant meaning to Bowie. The Bewlay Brothers may have been Bowie and Iggy, it could have bee McCartney and Lennon, but throughout the song, themes change and the things that may have seemed to "prove" that it was about one thing are inconsistent later on.

    For instance, when I saw the references to McCartney and Lennon (thank you ned1), I figured that made sense. I saw it as Bowie writing from McCartney's point of view when he said, "I was stone and he was wax/So he could scream and still relax/Unbelievable". Towards the end of the Beatles career, McCartney thought Lennon was just doing whatever was "in" to grab attention (he was moldable like wax.) Even though McCartney also made changes throughout his career, from his point of view, Lennon was too erratic and it annoyed McCartney and the rest of the group (McCartney was stone). Lennon was always the attention seeker.

    Then, if you agree that the song COULD at some points be written from the POV of McCartney, later it it says, "now my brother lays upon the rocks/ he could be dead/ he could be not". This is inconsistent with the "Paul is dead" theory because Paul is supposed to be singing about John, right? Then again it could mean "dead" as useless because Lennon was on heroin so often by the time the Beatles split. But Bowie wouldn't write that lyric with such an obvious reference to "Paul is Dead" if it were from Paul's perspective! Or did Bowie just not give a shit? Probably.

    This is just an example of how looking at it in ONE particular way doesn't sense because the whole song is inconsistent.

    Another possibility was WWII (thank you jbalakhdar), and that makes sense as well. The second half of the album is allusions to culture or philosophy, including Quicksand in the first half which I believe is a monologue from Hitler's point of view before he committed suicide.

    Then, I think AllTheMadMen made perfect sense when he said the whole thing was a schizophrenic episode. The whole thing may have been just as confounding to Bowie as it is to us, so how does Bowie piece the whole thing together? In a way that is personal to him, like his brother's illness.

    So we have pop culture allusions to other songs on the album, some Nietzsche thrown in there, mental illness, and again more WWII and history for ya.

    I think this song may be a mashup, if you will, of many different ideas and concepts. Really, it's all over the place and takes whatever meaning is most significant to the listener. Sort of like Happiness is a Warm Gun? (Although, even being a die hard Beatles fan, I think this song is better.) The Bewlay Brothers may be a complaint how this type of relationships seems to repeat itself in an unhealthy way (and this is simply proven by all the different possible guesses as who the Bewlay Brothers are supposed to be.) Regardless who you individually think it is, the relationship between the Brothers isn't a good one.

    I'm not as educated or well read as a lot of these submissions, CLEARLY, but I think giving it one meaning is disrespectful to the song and limits it. If it's JUST about WWII or schizophrenia or the whole Velvet Underground scene, that reduces the universal meaning of the song, and then the meaning is lost. Whatever you think that meaning is.
    MathildeB1on June 21, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General Commentmy god I don't know if I want to know completely. It seems purposefully shrouded in cryptic imagery about something dark in his past. I get the idea that he's talking about the older men that seduced him into a world of drugs and cross-dressing and what not. He talks about "dust in the veins" and "shooting up," and the whole thing is in the past tense and has a nostalgic ring to it. He says "we were so turned on by..." and "you thought we were fakers." He must be talking about older friends or just more experienced friends who showed them the morbid yet apparently somewhat beautiful underworld of heavy drugs and perverted sex that he was apparently a part of. One thing's for sure: this ain't the New Kids on the Block.
    jtatfsuon January 16, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAbout his own brother, who was committed? Fab lyrics, also fab use of the electric guitar on the chorus - so haunting and beautiful
    nagromnaion February 02, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentwhy doesn't anyone post on bowie? I love this song, i just don't really get it- unfortunately. I might spend some more time translating it, but it guess it wont help much.

    About the underworld of drugs and perverted sex- i don't think it would be past tense if it was about that. The album is (as far as i remember) from 1971.

    I thought it was about being different and trying to rebel, and when you weren't alone it was a easier. It micht be about love too. I don't know
    christina201288on May 04, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is such a sad song, it's about his step brother who was taken away to a mental institution. I love the sense of rebellion in this song, it makes me think of childhood, but more what Bowie's childhood would have been. The line -
    I was stone and he was wax
    So he could scream, and still relax, unbelievable
    is just brilliant. Bowie always sounds like an outsider, on this song it sounds like his brother was an outsider with him.
    siradskion May 19, 2006   Link

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